Near the monument of the Heavenly Hundred, where the sculpture of a human figure shaped like the cross and pictures adorned with flowers remind those who pass of the citizens killed during the Maidan demonstrations, a boxing gym opened its doors to the public.
The spacious gym features a large hall filled with three boxing rings, a pair of wrestling mats, and brand new equipment made to host up to 40 participants at a time. On the grand opening earlier in January, 300 spectators reportedly watched as 70 local amateur boxers aged 5-18 competed in an exhibition event.
According to reports, the Brothers Boxing Club has been in the works for the last five years. The 2014 Maidan demonstrations, subsequent political tension, and a struggle to find adequate funding and coaches delayed plans to open the gym. While the founders were eventually able to bring their vision to life, it would not have been possible without direct assistance from Khalid Musayev, an alleged Chechen gangster who moonlights as a businessman in Ukraine.
Musayev owns a car market in the Southern Ukrainian region of Odessa called Kuyalnik (aka Yama, which translates to ‘The Pit’). However, the patron of the Brother’s Boxing Club is also reportedly the leader of an ethnic organized criminal group that specializes in racketeering, trafficking, extortion, and other illegal activity. Musayev also appears to have close ties to Ramzan Kadyrov, the controversial leader of the Chechen Republic.
According to Ukrainian activist Mark Gordienko, Musayev moved to Odessa in 2014 and established close ties with corrupt law enforcement and judiciary members within the city. Musayev continues to walk around the city surrounded by armed bodyguards, whom he reportedly uses to intimidate journalists and activists. Gordienko revealed that Musayev allegedly struck him several times while surrounded by his guards in an attempt to silence the activist.
Gordienko also drew attention to Musayev’s pivot to combat sports on his official Facebook page.
“The bandits and gangsters from the 90s always donated their bloody money to the priests and to the gyms. Only thanks to the total corruptness of prosecutors, police officers and judges, does he continue to walk calmly around Odessa with four armed guards.”
Musayev’s involvement in the Ukrainian combat sports scene raises significant concerns, particularly due to his alleged criminal background and affiliation to Kadyrov. For those aware of Kadyrov’s sports diplomacy tactics — including how the Chechen dictator uses the Akhmat MMA fight club as an extension of his own government and as a vanity project to enhance his image both domestically and abroad — Musayev’s boxing patronage will hardly feel like a philanthropic endeavour. Instead, it serves the purpose of expanding Kadyrov’s sphere of influence abroad — a tactic he has already attempted in Germany.
Ahead of the German elections in 2017, local TV channel ZDF reportedthat Russian intelligence services were using martial arts clubs to scout and recruit potential agentsin Germany and other European nations. According to Dmitrij Chemelnizki, a scholar of Russian espionage living in Berlin, the martial arts clubs sprouting across Europe appear to have “direct or indirect” links to the FSB intelligence services in Russia.
ZDFwent on to report that the Kremlin has also called upon Kadyrov to infiltrate and destabilize European interests through the Chechen diaspora spread across various European countries. According to a senior FSB agent who fled Russia and spoke to the German reporters on record, Kadyrov plans to use his fight clubs to assimilate like-minded Chechens and use them for various political purposes in the West. The man responsible for this process in Germany is Timur Dugazayev, a former boxer turned manager who refers to himself as “Kadyrov’s representative in Germany.”
Dugazayev’s history with the Chechen leader dates back several years to when he managed former WBA heavyweight champion Ruslan Chagaev. The Uzbek boxer was Kadyrov’s favourite fighter at a time and even fought in Grozny, Chechnya, twice, including the final fight of his career.
Dugazayev is the owner of Terek Box Event, a Hamburg-based boxing promotion that he uses to host events in the region, as well as manage a roster of fighters that once included Chagaev. In 2014, boxer Fres Oquendo filed a lawsuit against Terek Box Event for damages of $5 million, as well as an injunction to prevent the promoter from promoting Chagaev until Oquendo got his rematch. The lawsuit was filed several months after the two boxers fought for the WBA heavyweight title in Grozny, Chechnya. The judges awarded Chagaev a questionable majority decision after one judge scored the fight a draw and the other two judges favoured Chagaev by a single round. Oquendo’s lawsuit also claimed that he was forced to take a RUSADA drug test when he had agreed to testing from the Swiss anti-doping agency, and that Kadyrov was permitted to climb onto the ring aprons between rounds to advise Chagaev, despite it being a clear violation of the rules. Oquendo’s advisor even suggested that the boxer was being threatened by the Chechen government.
“That week I received over 200 phone calls, emails etc., a lot of them alluding to threats on Fres’ life, my life and our families if we didn’t go,” Tom Tsatas, Oquendo’s advisor, said. “I have reported this to the FBI and I have sent them the emails. They promised us everything to get us over there, but in the end gave us nothing.
“Once we got there, everything changed. We were not allowed to leave the hotel grounds and we were only able to eat at one place inside the hotel. One member from our team was told in the elevator that if Fres knocked out Chagaev, none of us would leave the country,” Tsatas continued. “After the fight we took Fres to the hospital for a brain scan and then he, our promoter and trainer were essentially kidnapped and forced by men carrying automatic weapons to go back to the arena and forced to submit to the RUSADA drug test.“
Oquendo’s retelling of his experience in Chechnya sheds light on the troubling relationship between Kadyrov’s government and all sports events conducted within his republic. It has become evident that Dugazayev not only managed Chagaev, but also represented the interests of Kadyrov outside of Chechnya. His boxing promotion was also an extension of Kadyrov’s government, and it existed in large part to bolster the Chechen dictator’s cult of personality.
While Chagaev has since retired and Kadyrov’s combat sports preferences have pivoted towards mixed martial arts, Dugazayev remains useful to Kadyrov — a loyal foot soldier prepared to rally the Chechen diaspora in his favour, or even lay the blueprint for Kadyrov to expand his fight club system into Europe.
Dugazayev is responsible for an emerging crop of fight clubs in Kiel, Hamburg, Berlin, and other regions in Germany. Dugazayev also acts as a watchdog for Kadyrov, allowing the dictator to maintain control of Chechen natives outside of his own republic, including the thousands of Chechen refugees who fled his oppressive regime. Due to his unwavering allegiance, Dugazayev was awarded the Order of Akhmad Kadyrov medal, Chechnya’s highest honour.
While Dugazayev and Musayev have contrasting backgrounds, they seemingly share a common affinity for Kadyrov. Therefore, it is fair to assume that both men act in the dictator’s interest, especially with regards to combat sports. Given the popularity of boxing in Ukraine, Musayev’s decision to invest in a new gym dedicated to local boxers is a useful strategy to sportswash his own reputation as a vicious crime boss and to simultaneously promote Kadyrov as a benevolent leader.